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206 Million Eggs Recalled After Salmonella Outbreak, 22 Sickened

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers not to eat recalled shell eggs produced by Rose Acre Farms' North Carolina facility in Hyde County.

Rose Acre Farms voluntarily recalled more than 206 million eggs after FDA testing determined that the eggs were connected to 22 reported cases of salmonella infections traced back to the farm.

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New USDA Food Safety Plan Will Speed Up Poultry Processing Lines

The  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new plan Wednesday to reduce the number of salmonella outbreaks linked to meat and poultry.

Included is a controversial rollout of a pilot program that would speed up poultry processing lines and replace some USDA inspectors with plant employees. The proposal would increase line speeds in poultry plants to 175 chickens per minute from 140 and 55 turkeys per minute from 45.

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The USDA said the new plan would focus inspectors more greatly on food safety, a change that could potentially reduce 5,000 illnesses a year. An estimated 1.3 million Americans are sickened by the bacteria each year. The USDA aims to reduce salmonella illnesses by 20,000 cases a year.

The effort comes weeks after Foster Farms chicken was found to have sickened at least 389 people nationwide with a virulent strain of salmonella found to be resistant to some antibiotics.

“Far too many Americans are sickened by salmonella every year. The aggressive and comprehensive steps detailed in the Salmonella Action Plan will protect consumers by making meat and poultry products safer,” Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen said in a prepared statement.

Food safety and worker advocates have criticized the increase as dangerous for both employees and consumers. A recent Washington Post investigation found nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys were unintentionally boiled alive because of fast-moving factory lines.

“This flawed proposed rule cannot serve as the foundation of any serious plan to reduce salmonella rates in meat and poultry products,” Wenonah Hauter, director of Food & Water Watch, said in a media release.

“To really tackle the salmonella problem, USDA should not be trying to cut government inspection of poultry products. Instead, the Obama administration needs to get the legal authority from Congress to hold companies accountable for putting contaminated food into commerce, not deregulate inspection.”

Salmonella doesn’t trigger an automatic recall, as with E. coli outbreaks, because it’s not considered an adulterant. Health officials have been pushing the USDA to change that, arguing that more dangerous strains of salmonella resistant to antibiotics have emerged in recent years.

But unless the USDA deems salmonella an adulterant, it's often up to producers to issue a recall.

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service has received hundreds of thousands of comments from consumers opposed to replacing some USDA inspectors with plant employees and worker safety advocates have raised serious concerns that poultry plant workers will suffer increased rates of injuries trying to keep up with increased line speeds, Hauter said.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

 

U.S. Agencies Plan to Eliminate True Organic Egg Production

The Cornucopia Institute

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft guidance document to clarify how egg producers, including organic farmers with outdoor access, can comply with its 2009 egg safety rule aimed at reducing salmonella contamination in the nation’s egg supply.

Since organic producers are required by federal standards to grant outdoor access to their laying hens, the guidance applies to all organic egg producers. The FDA, which collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Program in promulgating their guidance, recognizes minute covered porches—which do not afford true and meaningful outdoor access to laying hens—as one of four possible organic production systems and thereby legitimizes their use.

Already the focus of controversy and threatened lawsuits, the USDA has been widely criticized for allowing giant “organic” factory farms, confining as many as 100,000 birds to a building, to skirt the requirements for outdoor access by employing tiny screened porches, often with a capacity of only one-three percent of the confined birds. The USDA is currently allowing these giant poultry operations to claim these structures as the legally required “access to the outdoors.”

“This is collusion between two Obama administration agencies to significantly and permanently weaken the integrity of the organic standards,” says Mark Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute.

“By giving the OK to use covered porches as ‘outdoor access,’ and putting additional burdens on producers with legitimate outdoor runs or pasture, the recommendations in this food safety document decisively tilt the playing field to industrial-scale producers,” added Kastel.

Some in the organic community had been concerned that the FDA would require impractical swabbing and disinfecting of the outdoor areas but the draft guidance puts these concerns to rest.

However, other prevention and control measures that are included in the guidance could force organic producers to devote significant additional resources, or may even make it impossible for pastured poultry operations to comply.

Stephanie Alexandre, a producer of certified organic, pastured eggs near Crescent City, CA, objects to the draft guidance.

“It’s ironic that federal regulators would apply such scrutiny, and costly and labor-intensive requirements, to my farm when there is abundant published, peer-reviewed research indicating that the real danger to society, from salmonella contamination in eggs, comes from giant industrial operations, generally with caged birds, not with modest sized flocks of pastured poultry,” said Alexandre.

For example, despite weak scientific evidence that contact with wild birds is a significant risk factor for salmonella contamination, the FDA requires organic producers to minimize contact with other birds. The agency recommends noise cannons, temporary confinement, netting, or even structures with roofs (porches) which would be cost prohibitive for most organic producers with meaningful outdoor access.

Some of the recommended measures would discourage chickens from using the outdoor space. For example, while noise cannons would be effective in scaring wild birds, they would also scare the laying hens and effectively make the outdoor area an inhospitable environment for the organic birds.

“In effect, the FDA’s proposed recommendations would steer organic egg producers toward the use of porches, which would be the most effective and cost-efficient way to ensure complete compliance with the rule,” Kastel explained. “Why would farm operators invest the extra labor and expense to meet the FDA requirements, and put their birds outside, when they can create a token structure, attached to their main building, and continue to confine their animals?”

“The recommendations in this draft guidance essentially give organic producers a textbook of excuses for why their birds can legally be confined in industrial settings,” says Kastel. “To create the safest and most nutritious eggs, we should be encouraging more and better use of outdoor space for laying hens so that they can exhibit their true, native behavior. But this FDA document does just the opposite.”

The Cornucopia Institute was already investigating a legal action against the USDA for its unwillingness to enforce the law requiring outdoor access for chickens. It is the farm policy organization’s contention that confining birds to small adjacent structures on massive industrial-scale “farms,” does not meet the federal legal mandate.

In what now appears to be a cynical ploy, the USDA had asked the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)—the expert citizen panel that Congress created to advise the Secretary of Agriculture—to develop standards to help enforce the requirement for outdoor access.

The NOSB completed a years-long process of collaborating with industry representatives and forwarded a series of recommendations to USDA leadership that would have required a minimum amount of square footage, and other requirements, like the number and size of doors, that would have facilitated enforcement of the outdoor access provisions.

Recently, leadership at the USDA’s National Organic Program informed organic stakeholders that they would not follow through with amending poultry/livestock regulations, incorporating the NOSB’s recommendations, because it was currently “not a priority.”

“The lack of enforcement action by the USDA has helped shift the lion’s share of production of organic eggs to giant agribusinesses, which mostly produce conventional eggs, at the expense of family-scale farmers who are producing a superior product in an environmentally responsible manner and treating their livestock humanely,” stated Cornucopia’s Kastel.

“We will not stand by while the most dedicated and responsible, and law-abiding, organic producers are placed at a competitive disadvantage by the arbitrary and capricious behavior of the current administration’s leadership at the USDA and FDA.”

The FDA has opened a 60-day public comment period for input pursuant to their draft guidance on compliance with the salmonella safety rule for producers with outdoor access for laying hens.

The Cornucopia Institute will soon release an action alert and briefing paper so interested organic stakeholders can make informed comments on the draft guidance.

If organic farmers and consumers interested in protecting the integrity of the organic label, and possibly the country’s safest agricultural producers, are not already Cornucopia members, they can either join by visiting the organization’s website.

Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on this topic.

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